Celia Mattison

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Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance. Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress.

Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.).

As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual. According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants.

Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey provides an exquisite blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health.
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Poet and author Ander Monson has seen the 1987 movie Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the run from an alien in a Guatemalan jungle, 146 times. To explain why, he wrote Predator: A Memoir. Through a scene-by-scene exploration of the film, which he describes as “satire wrapped in gun pornography,” Monson reckons with his lifelong obsession with the movie and how it has informed his relationships to fatherhood, violence, fanaticism and masculinity.

“How dumb is this to have spent a decade or more watching this kind of dumb movie?” Monson asks throughout the book. What he proves is that Predator is both dumb and insightful; spending a lifetime with Predator is both a fun, escapist pastime and a profound self-education. Through repeated rewatches of the film, Monson better understands the real-life predators that have lingered in his imagination. One recurring image is the shocking rape and murder of his childhood babysitter by a budding serial killer in his small hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the character of the Predator, Monson sees a culmination of how violence, particularly violence committed by men, has been fetishized: “What’s hunting us is us, Predator tells us. It’s a version of us—male, equipped, single-minded, armed, aggressive, showy, and powerful.” With complete candor, he interrogates violence he has both witnessed and committed, violence that has both harmed and benefited him.

This is not film analysis, and though Monson does provide critique, he’s not looking at the film as a work of art. Predator is about Monson’s shifting relationship to a fixed cultural object and how he has seen himself reflected in it and found himself reflecting it back. However, navel-gazing is skillfully avoided. Monson’s narration has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby. 

Some level of interest in the film is definitely required to understand what Monson is saying, but his storytelling spills over with tactile curiosity and fervor, making this work accessible to those who have seen the movie 145 fewer times than he has. It’s a book that will ignite conversation (and multiple film rewatches) for those who can relate to Monson’s familiar sentiment: “I’m not angry at masculinity exactly but I do have questions for it.”

Ander Monson’s exploration of the 1987 film Predator has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.
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Though Nuar Alsadir set out to write a book about laughter, Animal Joy is a far deeper study of how we express and understand our most powerful emotions, told through meticulous psychoanalytic research and Alsadir’s own experiences.

Animal Joy opens at a clown school where Alsadir enrolled to explore laughter. The only nonactor of the group, Alsadir sought to understand a specific laugh: the spontaneous outburst. “Spontaneous outbursts of laughter express meaning outside of reason and . . . unveil a whole dimension of being and bodily aliveness that short-circuits logic,” she writes. Alsadir explores a wide variety of social outbursts, including the laughter Christine Blasey Ford recalled hearing from Brett Kavanaugh when he allegedly sexually assaulted her, the tradition of professional mourners and the fake laughter purposefully generated in a laughter yoga class. This research provokes an intimate examination of impulsive and unconscious communication in all of its “savage complexity.”

As a poet and psychoanalyst—readers might recognize her as one of the counselors from the Showtime documentary series “Couples Therapy”—Alsadir is uniquely positioned as an excavator of human emotion and the things that evoke those emotions. She draws a constellation of interactions, with points made out of Anna Karenina’s doomed love affair, Blade Runner‘s obedient replicants and Dick Cavett’s 1985 interview with Eddie Murphy. These references are not tangential or tacked on but essential components of her thinking. “Other people’s speech, like it or not, lives inside us, buoys us, metastasizes,” she writes. “We are quantum entangled with our universe and everything in it.”

Rather than feeling dated or overly niche, these deeply specific references only heighten the intimacy Alsadir offers. There is plenty of serious academic analysis to admire in Animal Joy, with her detailed discussions of Sigmund Freud and Roland Barthes, but what is more spectacular is how she entangles theory with the tender anecdotes about her two daughters that ground the book. Though the terrain Alsadir covers is vast and often feels tenuously connected, the resonant beauty of her prose helps guide the reader through a deliberately cluttered and complicated narrative. 

Animal Joy is a challenging and deeply rewarding meditation on laughter and communication that will stand up to multiple readings; as Alsadir herself reminds us, “Understanding often occurs retroactively.”

Though Nuar Alsadir set out to write a book about laughter, Animal Joy is a far deeper study of how we express and understand our most powerful emotions.
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Poet Kendra Allen’s Fruit Punch is a sensitive and lyrical collage of the sexuality and violence she experienced during her Dallas childhood. Writing in masterfully composed vignettes as vivid and fleeting as real memories, Allen excavates the anger, powerlessness and wonder she experienced as a young Black girl learning to navigate the world. 

Radiating from Fruit Punch‘s center is a hauntingly precise meditation on the body, as Allen celebrates the vibrancy of childhood play alongside the many ways this joy can be, and was, squashed when she was sexually abused by a family member. It’s a skillful observation of how Black female bodies are hypersexualized, objectified and aggressed starting in childhood. Allen’s mother, L.A., also survived this pattern and feared it would repeat with her own children. Allen writes about how, when she was 9, “L.A. gets terrified for me this year; fearing for my whereabouts and making sure to ask me about my body and who is touching it or had it already been touched.”

What makes Fruit Punch truly dazzling is how Allen hunts for the slippery traces of celebration amid the visceral pain of girlhood. This is not a straightforward lamentation of trauma and the loss of innocence but a fully rendered vision of childhood’s many facets. In that sense, her words both disrupt and sparkle. She doesn’t only experience fear; she also dances in laundromats to Brandy and Britney Spears and breaks the rules of her great-great-uncle’s “No uncrossed ankles / No questions” Southern Baptist church.

Inside this turmoil is Allen’s inescapable sense of irony. As she discusses her childhood abuse for the first time, she shares the fears she has for the next generation: “Especially now since it’s a lot of lil girls in my family. I be scared for them. For they voices. But I had more fun times than not for sure.” Fruit Punch is a startling, unique and deeply poetic work from a writer on the rise.

Fruit Punch is a startling, unique and deeply poetic meditation on sexuality and violence. Kendra Allen is a writer on the rise.
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Tajja Isen’s debut essay collection reveals her as a multihyphenate talent—voice actor, singer, editor, writer, law school graduate—with a delicious knack for wordplay and language. In Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service, Isen writes about the disparity between the “token apologies and promises” made by white people and what Black people actually want and take for themselves.

The strongest essay, which lends its name to the book’s title, examines the relationship white women have to power and pain, which Isen dubs the “aesthetics of vulnerability.” Continuing a thread from the previous essay about the popularity of Black trauma writing, Isen looks at how self-indulgence has been romanticized by white female artists. “If you’re always in pain you’ll never want for material,” she writes of these white artists’ impulse to glamorize their sadness.

Another standout essay is “Hearing Voices,” Isen’s personal exploration of voice acting as a transformative and potentially empowering art form. In addition to outlining her own experiences as a Black voice actor, she discusses “Big Mouth,” “Central Park” and “The Simpsons,” three animated shows that cast white actors to voice nonwhite characters and then apologized for this choice in 2020.

This essay also underlines a central weakness of the book: It already feels dated. Scanning the table of contents feels like reading a list of Twitter’s most popular trending topics from 2020. In the churn of the modern news cycle, it seems inevitable that not every moment referenced would have cultural staying power, but it’s especially frustrating when Isen chooses intentionally ephemeral data points, like viral trailers for made-for-TV movies or deleted Instagram posts.

In the book’s most compelling moments, Isen makes the churn the point: Whatever Starbucks or Lena Dunham did and subsequently apologized for in 2020 is something they’ll do again in 2030. Rather than revealing a new issue, the “Big Mouth” casting controversy confirmed something Isen had already learned early in her voice acting career: “The problem is the ivory grip on what Black sounds like.”

Throughout the collection, Isen engages the greatest hits of leftist Twitter discourse but with the type of nuance that’s impossible in 280 characters. She admits to “keeping an eye on the writers at the vanguard, seeing what kind of behavior gets rewarded,” and that’s reflected in the originality of Some of My Best Friends’ content—but it’s Isen’s original perspective and clever language that will win over readers.

Tajja Isen’s debut essay collection reveals her as a multihyphenate talent with a delicious knack for wordplay and language.
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Journalist Karen Cheung’s intimate memoir of Hong Kong explores what it means to live in and love a complicated city. In The Impossible City, Hong Kong frequently appears as a temperamental partner described in body horror-like terms: It’s a city that’s dying, a city “on the verge of mutilation,” a city ready to disappear. But Cheung’s Hong Kong is also vividly multifaceted, at once marked by the constructed “Hong Kong cool” glamorized in Wong Kar Wai films and yet full of people yearning for a more equitable future built through collective action and protest.

Though Cheung was ambivalent about Hong Kong as a child, an outsider in both the elite international school and public secondary school she attended, she eventually embraced her hometown as a second family after her beloved grandmother died and her father’s home became too abusive to remain in. Alongside her evolving personal relationship with Hong Kong, she narrates the city’s most significant and turbulent moments from her lifetime, including the Handover in 1997, when the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China; Occupy Central in 2014, also known as the Umbrella Movement, when crowds occupied Hong Kong for 79 days to demand more transparent elections; and both the SARS and COVID-19 pandemics. In Cheung’s hands, the problems, charms and complexities that characterize the city are illuminated with grace and intelligence. She refuses to write from a distance or cater to a white audience, dismissing the bland both-sidesism of modern journalism.

Cheung explores gentrification not just through statistics and citations but through a summary of the six different residences and 22 different roommates she lived with in just five years. An ongoing and citywide mental health crisis is discussed through her own struggle to access reliable psychiatric care. Most powerfully, The Impossible City asks how we can belong to and believe in a city and world that are frequently disappointing, and how we can continue to care about a future we may never see.

Cheung’s luminous memoir will appeal to both those familiar with Hong Kong and armchair travelers hoping to better understand the roots of the city’s political movements. Beyond that, The Impossible City will resonate with anyone who has struggled to love their city of residence in a time characterized by political dissent, racial strife and pandemic.

In Karen Cheung’s luminous debut memoir, Hong Kong’s problems, charms and complexities are illuminated with grace and intelligence.

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